Fifteenth annual Litfest mixes online and in-person events

· The Pulse
By Paul Blinov
in the Arts Roundup
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Trying to plan for anything live during the pandemic seems like a herculean feat — but Edmonton's non-fiction literary festival is cautiously going forward, balancing access with safety.

"It's a bit wild," Fawnda Mithrush, Litfest's executive director, told Taproot. "All I really want to do is curl up with a pile of books and not have to think about the next government press conference."

Mithrush is carefully forging ahead with this year's festival, which happens to mark Litfest's 15th anniversary. It will feature 21 events with both online and in-person offerings between Oct. 14-24. Metro Cinema will host the festival's opening night, featuring the Edmonton launch of Omar Mouallem's Praying To The West and screening of his burger-chain documentary The Last Baron.

Other popular yearly Litfest events, like Writers' Brunch and The Memoir Hour, will happen virtually. There are also masterclasses, poetry panels, and plenty of other offerings over the festival's 10-day run.

Last year's Litfest was a completely online experience, and Mithrush notes the festival is looking to maintain some of that online presence, even as in-person events re-enter the picture.

"We learned a lot in terms of accessibility and reach with the online events last year," Mithrush says. "We're trying to preserve the positive aspects of those lessons while making sure what happens in-person is safe and accessible, too."

A handful of the 2021 Litfest guests.

A handful of the 2021 Litfest guests. (Supplied)

Access seems more important than ever as the appetite for wide-ranging stories grows stronger in Canada and beyond.

"There are a lot more diverse authors being promoted by larger publishers these days — at least this is a change I've noticed since I started programming the festival in 2014," Mithrush says.

"Publishers have realized that there's a substantial readership in Canada that is keen to hear about Indigenous experiences, for instance, and you're seeing proof of that not only in bestseller lists, but also in the promotion and touring of those authors, too."